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2016-02-12 | Peer Reviewed

Discounting and relative consumption

Sterner, Thomas and Olof Johansson-Stenman. 2015. “Discounting and relative consumption.” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 71: 19-33.
Download reference Doi:10.1016/j.jeem.2015.01.006

We analyze optimal social discount rates when people derive utility from relative consumption, i.e. their own consumption level relative to the consumption level of others. We compare the social, private, and conventional Ramsey rates. Assuming a positive growth rate, we find that (1) the social discount rate exceeds the private discount rate if the importance of relative consumption increases with consumption, and that (2) the social discount rate is lower than the Ramsey rate given quasi-concavity in own and others' consumption and risk aversion with respect to others' consumption. Numerical calculations demonstrate that the latter difference may be substantial and have important implications for long run environmental issues such as global warming.